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New Sermon Series: The Gospel According to Joshua

April 04 2018
April 04 2018

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This Sunday I will begin a ten week sermon series on the Old Testament book of Joshua, which I’ve titled The Gospel According to Joshua.

For most, our familiarity with the book of Joshua is limited to one famous battle involving the ancient Canaanite city of Jericho. The song we learned as children notwithstanding, Joshua did not “fight” this battle. In fact, this is an important lesson Joshua impresses upon the people. "Shout, for the LORD has given you the city (Josh. 6:16). Throughout Joshua, our stereotype of a vast, dominant military nation (Israel) invading the land is actually deconstructed. Instead, we are continually reminded that it’s the Lord who fights for Israel (Josh. 10:14).

Recognizing that God is the primary actor in the book of Joshua is critical to grasping its central message, which is God’s faithfulness to his covenant promise to bring Israel into the land of Canaan. The circumstances of Joshua’s beginning heighten the relevance of this even further. Following the Exodus, the 40 years of wandering in the desert and the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, what was to happen to Israel and all that God had promised to do? In the pages of Joshua we learn that even though Moses has died as did an entire generation who had wandered in the wilderness for forty years, God’s promise was still very much alive.

Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses (Josh. 1:2-3).

The reason for this is God’s steadfast promise or his prior covenant or bond that he sovereignly made with Israel many centuries earlier. You may remember that this covenant story of grace reaches all the way back to Abraham (Cf. Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21). At that time God chose Abraham and his children to be his people. He promised to make of Abraham a great nation, and through which God would bring even greater covenant blessings to the whole world (cf. Gen. 12:1-3).

The book of Joshua is an important installment in God making good on his covenant promise to preserve Israel as a nation and to bring them into the “Promised Land” by defeating the Canaanite tribes who had lived there previously. When we get to the end of Joshua (both the book and his life), this is the message Joshua aims to impress upon the Israelites,

And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed (Josh. 23:14).

Obedience is another substantial theme introduced in the book’s first chapter. Many of us recall God’s charge to Joshua, that he be “strong and courageous.” What we often forget though is that this summons was less about self-reliant bravado than it was a charge to offer faithful obedience to the Law of Moses. Reading the entire verse in context makes this apparent.

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go (Josh. 1:7).

In response to God’s sustaining mercies, his people are to offer faithful obedience to his commandments. In Joshua we find a leader who demonstrated this kind of faithfulness and summons us to follow.

The deepest significance of these lessons, however, is not discerned until they are seen in relationship to Jesus Christ and how he uniquely fulfills all of God’s promises. Truth be told, though the book of Joshua recounts God’s promises being fulfilled, there are hints that His promises were not exhaustively realized. For example, the land was not completely taken and the Canaanites were not completely dispossessed (Josh. 13:1-2; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12-13). As with other aspects of the Old Covenant, Israel was not able to enter into the fullness of God’s rest.

As Christians we recognize that Joshua, like Moses before him, was a type of Christ. He anticipated the true “servant of the Lord” who brings God’s people into its true rest and fulfills all of God’s covenant promises (2 Cor. 1:20). The land is also significant, though not in the way the Israelites expected. In the book of Hebrews, we learn that the land of Canaan which the Israelites entered with Joshua is to be understood as a type of Sabbath rest (Heb. 4:8-9). Similarly, in the eleventh chapter we learn that Abraham, who was first promised the land of Canaan, was looking for an everlasting possession, a city whose foundations, builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). What can this future city be but the “Holy City” which is still yet to be realized in the glorious consummation of all of God’s redemptive purposes (cf. Rev. 21:1-2, 10; 22:20).

The promises made to Israel, then, find their fulfillment through a better Joshua, none other than our Divine warrior, Jesus Christ. And the place of this renewal is not some narrow strip of land resting on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, but on a cosmically renewed earth. This is Jesus' promise, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).

If this makes sense, then we are well prepared for our journey through Joshua during this season of Easter. As believers in Jesus Christ, Easter reminds us that we have received the greatest of all “Exoduses,” that of having been delivered from the guilt and power of our sin. Through our Shepherd-Savior, we are now being led in a life of discipleship. We are not striving for deliverance, but have entered it. Nevertheless, as with the Israelites under Joshua, we too face daunting threats and feel powerful temptations in this strange world that is promised to us, but not yet fully received by us. Therefore, now is a time for us to grow even more confident in God’s sovereign promise and strive to be “strong and courageous” in his grace.


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